Mammoth Crowd Gathers for Final Papal Mass
MANILA, Philippines (AP) _ Pope John Paul II, visibly awed by perhaps the largest crowd of his 16-year papacy, urged the world’s youth Sunday to respect ``the beautiful gift of sexuality″ and avoid falling into the trap of ``moral slavery.″
The turnout for the final Mass of the pontiff’s visit to Asia’s only majority Roman Catholic nation. Vatican officials estimated the crowd at between 2 million and 5 million people, including hundreds of thousands who packed streets miles away from the site at Rizal Park.
So dense was the crowd that the pope abandoned plans to travel from his residence by car and was flown instead by helicopter.
At the previous record-setting Mass, 2 million people turned out in 1979 at the pope’s hometown of Krakow for his first visit to Poland after his elevation to the papacy.
The Mass Sunday was the climax of the Church’s 10th World Youth Day, which brought together young Catholics from around the world.
During his homily, the pope sternly lectured young people not to abuse drugs, alcohol and ``the beautiful gift of sexuality.″
``Objective moral norms are abandoned under peer pressure and under the pervasive influence of trends and fashions publicized by the media,″ John Paul said. ``Millions of people the world over all are falling into subtle but real forms of moral slavery.″
The 74-year-old pope seemed moved by sight of the huge turnout. After mounting the podium, he stared out at the pennant-waving throng. His lips quivered as if he were talking to himself.
The Vatican had expected a tremendous crowd for the Pope’s final Mass before leaving Monday for Papua New Guinea. But the sheer size exceeded all expectations.
Vatican spokesman Joaquin Navarro said the Church had planned for a crowd of 1 million. But shortly after dawn, officials raised the estimate to 2 million and later said as many as 5 million were trying to reach the site.
``It’s an excess of success,″ Navarro said.
Tens of thousands of people camped overnight near the park to stake out a prime spot for the Mass. They were perched atop cars and climbed trees for a view of the pope.
Lydia Angeles, 58, walked six miles and got no closer than 500 yards from the Mass site, arriving five hours ahead of the pope. But she wasn’t disappointed.
``Even though we won’t see him, we can feel his presence,″ she said.
All security and crowd control measures broke down in the pandemonium. Ambulances and buses with bishops were blocked more than an hour before the service was to start.
President Fidel Ramos, a Methodist, also had to be helicoptered to the Mass.
Dozens of people collapsed from the heat and the crush of humanity. Two men struggled to carry one semi-conscious woman who had fainted.
Tempers flared, and people prayed for rain to cool down the air and discourage others from joining the crowd. Cries of, ``I’m fainting, I’m fainting″ were common.
At one street corner about 500 yards from the altar, reporters counted eight people collapsing over a two-minute period. Police using megaphones begged people to make way, but that was impossible.
The pope has drawn huge crowds in Asia’s only Catholic country throughout his visit, which began Thursday. After Papua New Guinea, the pope will also visit Australia and Sri Lanka during his 11-day Asian pilgrimage.
In Manila, the size of the turnouts has been matched by overwhelming enthusiasm.
Late Saturday, an estimated 1 million people gathered for a nighttime rally, in which the pontiff urged young people to take responsibility for giving their lives meaning.
He said they should reject those of the ``intellectual elite″ who promote a cynical view of life ``incapable of love.″
The atmosphere around him was carnival-like. The crowd chanted ``John Paul Two, We Love You!″ and broke into song.
John Paul responded, holding hands on stage with beaming young men and women and swaying back and forth to the music. He waved his cane and flashed playful facial expressions to the delight of the crowd.
He announced the next World Youth Day would be held in Paris in 1997.
During his visit, the Pope has remained uncompromising on conservative Vatican policies concerning numerous social and political issues.
He broadcast a message to China’s 1.2 billion people but offered no compromise to the Communist government on the controversial issue of papal supremacy, which led to a break in relations four decades ago.
The pope reminded Chinese Christians that they must acknowledge supremacy of the Holy See to be recognized as genuine Catholics.
During a meeting with Filipino bishops Saturday, the pope spoke out against abortion, contraception, sterilization and threats to the ``divine gift of human life.″
The Church here opposes the government’s birth control program.